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Error disclosures may forestall malpractice lawsuits

Article-Error disclosures may forestall malpractice lawsuits

Boston — Researchers here say that admitting mistakes to patients does not automatically increase malpractice costs, MedPage Today reports.

A study headed by Allen Kachalia, M.D., J.D., of Brigham and Women’s Hospital notes that after implementation of a program to fully disclose medical errors and offer compensation for them, average monthly costs for total liability dropped across one health system by a rate ratio of 0.41, compared with the period before the program.

Moreover, compensation paid to patients for errors and other legal costs dropped just as dramatically, according to the study. These results challenge the traditional reluctance to admit mistakes for fear of malpractice suits.

“The openness and accompanying patient safety efforts may satisfy patients for whom litigation was formerly their only alternative,” the authors wrote in their study, which appeared in the Aug. 17 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine.

“Disclosure may (prevent) both meritorious and non-meritorious claims from becoming expensive lawsuits.”

Kachalia's group retrospectively examined outcomes of the program comparing claims before the program back to 1995, through to full implementation in February 2003, and then to 2007. After full implementation, new claims fell from an average monthly rate of 7.03 to 4.52 per 100,000 patient encounters. Lawsuits dropped from an average monthly rate of 2.13 before July 2001 to 0.75 per 100,000 patient encounters after February 2003.

Researchers expressed caution about the lack of a concurrent control group, but noted that the results outperformed predicted cost savings from 2003 to 2008 by about 39 percent.

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